Ft. Necessity Under Siege by the French July 3, 1754
After a few minutes during which Washington and a few men climbed a rocky ledge just above the French camp, Washington’s men had surrounded the French. It was just before dawn, but still twilight. The French camp was not yet awake. Washington gave the signal by taking careful aim and then firing, felling a French officer. He and his men rushed down from the ledge. The rest of his men also rushed into the French camp. Swords cut the night, bayonets stabbed. The French soon surrendered. While, some of them were killed, many of the French were sprawled on the ground wounded. One of them was Ensign de Jumonville. In the melee, which lasted but 15 minutes, ten of the French were slain and the rest, except one, were captured.
Washington had just begun the interrogation of Ensign de Jumonville. De Jumonville repeatedly told Washington in French, which Washington did not understand, that he was a diplomat trying to deliver an important message. The Half King sat around the fire glaring at de Jumonville. Suddenly, the Half King, eyes glaring with hatred, voice shrill and screaming, rushed across the camp, tomahawk in hand. As he reached the wounded Ensign, the Half King yelled, “Tu n’es Pas Encore Mort, Mon Pere!” (“You are not dead yet, my Father!”) His tomahawk came down hard and split the young Ensign’s skull in two. Unseen, however, by the British, was one form hidden in the woods, who watched these proceedings and then silently escaped in the grey of the twilight. He ran as speedily as he could to Fort Duquesne.
Private Monceau, a cut across his arm bleeding profusely, stumbled into Fort Duquesne. “My Captain! Ensign de Jumonville is murdered!”
Acting with celerity that equaled or surpassed Washington’s own in reacting to de Jumonville being near to the Great Meadows, Captain Contrecoeur dispatched some 600 French troops and 100 Indian allies to engage the British. The commanding officer, Captain Contrecoeur, placed this body of men under the command of Captain Louis Coulon de Villers, the older brother of the Ensign de Jumonville, who had been so brutally killed by the Half King.
Meanwhile, Washington and his Indian allies retreated to the Great Meadows and into Fort Necessity. Although its name was grandiose, Fort Necessity was little more than a stockade, which Washington had being building.
Captain Contrecoeur settled into a siege of the little fort. Late May faded into June, and then June gave way to July. Somehow, during this time, Washington received reinforcements from South Carolina under Captain James MacKay bringing his force to something around 400. He also received word from Governor Dinwiddie that, because Colonel Fry had died in a horse riding accident, Washington was promoted to command the Virginia regiment and was now a full Colonel. Washington, while proud of his promotion, lamented the irony of being promoted while he was being desperately besieged. No matter what Washington did, the French would not be lured into a stand-up fight in the great space of the Great Meadows.
July 3, 1754 dawned, but the day remained gloomy and dark. Rain fell in torrents. The deluge turned the Meadows into a quagmire of muck and mud. Captain Contrecoeur had decided that today he would attack. He was tired of the siege and he wanted to end it, before Washington received more reinforcements.
In our next and final installment concerning the start of the French and Indian War, we will learn of the Treaty which Washington signed and its consequences.
A Reconstruction of Fort Necessity
It was late May of 1754, the Great Meadows spread before Washington’s men as they lounged in the warm sunlight. Washington had decided to build a road north from Willis Creek. Here, in the Great Meadows, he had decided to construct his base camp, which he called “Fort Necessity.” The Great Meadows is near modern Uniontown, PA.
His men had come through a pass in the Allegheny Mountains and had found this alpine-like meadow with wild flowers blooming, soft and gentle green grass, and ringed by lush trees. It was a piece of heaven on earth and the men loved it. Another mountain pass to the north led to Confluence, Pennsylvania, and Washington had halted here in the meadows awaiting his reinforcements. “They might pass these meadows coming through either of the passes,’ he thought. The young Lieutenant Colonel was leading his first real command and he, too, was basking in the sunlight, as well as the glory of his first command.
Tanaghrisson, the Mingo Indian Chief, known to the British as the Half King, had urged Washington to rest here awhile. Normally, an Iroquois Chief, who had the power behind him of the Council, was called King. Tanaghrisson had once had the Council behind him, but now, it was not clear what his authority was, so the British called him derisively, the Half King. Washington decided that it was the place to build a fort, which he named “Necessity,” while he figured out what further steps he should take.
The Half King had come to hate the French. He related the story that a Frenchmen, Paul Marin de la Malgue, had insulted him. Apparently, he took the Half King’s land and did not pay for it, and then when the Half King asked why he did not pay, Paul Marin de la Malgue said: ‘Down the river, I will go. If the river is blocked up, I have the forces to burst it open and tread under my feet all that oppose me. I despise all the stupid things you have said to me.’ With that he flung to the ground the wampum which the Half King had given him as a gift and, with his foot, he crushed it into the ground, breaking the wampum apart.
Because of the arrival of the British in the Great Meadows, panic swept through the French sheltered in Fort Duquesne. It had become known as Fort Duquesne, because the commander of the fort, Captain Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecoeur, had wanted to honor his mentor and champion, the Marquis Duquesne. Captain Contrecoeur wanted to evict the British without bloodshed. He, therefore, dispatched Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villers de Jumonville as an envoy with an escort of 35 men to deliver a summons to the British forces to quit French lands. Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villers de Jumonville and his little party duly left Fort Duquesne and made for the Great Meadows. They camped for the night some six miles away.
Washington, although inexperienced as a commander, had sent out scouting parties in all directions from the Great Meadows. Washington had asked the Half King for his most reliable men. The Half king deemed this request so important that he went along with his best men, who included one named, Silver Heels. That night, May 27, 1754, after de Jumonville’s party had set up camp, the Half King found the French in their camp. He sent Silver Heels to the British camp at the Great Meadows, which encampment had been grandly named Fort Necessity.
Silver Heels ran the entire six miles to Fort Necessity. Finding Washington, Silver Heels informed him of the whereabouts of Ensign de Jumonville’s party.
It was not fifteen minutes before Washington led a party of 40 British and twelve Mingos to join the Half King and his warriors. The weather was unforgiving and bode poorly for the venture. The rain fell in torrents. Still, Washington led onwards. The night was cold. The small party made slow headway.
It was close to dawn when Washington’s party reached Chestnut Hill. Somehow, Washington had gotten it in his head that the French were spies sent to gain intelligence about the British. His mind could not admit any other possibility. The thought that they might be emissaries, never entered his mind.
Washington’s plan was simple to deal with the French: encircle them; have each man pick out a target; and fire on Washington’s signal, fire. Then, rush in with bayonets and swords.
George Washington as a young surveyor
Dinwiddie’s Response to Legardeur
Governor Dinwiddie had been empowered under his instructions to take military action if the French did not withdraw. The Governor drafted William Trent, who Trent was a frontiersman who had been a fur trader and who had explored the Ohio Valley extensively. Although now he was more of a merchant and although he lived in Pennsylvania, he was still a man whose reputation would induce men of the Frontier to join him in an expedition. Trent was to raise a company of frontiersmen, go into the Ohio Valley and build a fort at the Forks, which Washington has scouted.
At first Trent declined, until the Governor advised Trent that the King had ordered Two Independent Companies from New York and one from Carolina, to march into Virginia to augment what the Governor raised. In addition, the Governor had gotten the Virginia House of Burgesses to grant him £10,000, such that the Governor would raise a full Virginia Regiment, to be commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry and Lt. Colonel George Washington
In February, 1754 Trent and his men had constructed the fort, nearby the French fort of Duquesne.
Later, after Trent had departed with his company, in Alexandria, Lt. Colonel Washington was readying his men for their march. On April 2, 1754, he would lead his men to Fort Trent at the Forks of the Ohio. Now, Washington was leading Virginia Colonial Troops to relieve and reinforce Trent and his men. Washington saw his job as one of construction. He would build the roads to the fort and open up the Ohio.
Washington had moved his men with great speed, in a heroic attempt to save Trent’s men now besieged at the Fort at the Forks of the Ohio.
They marched into Winchester, where the people of the town lined the street. Washington was uniformed like a British officer, with a long, dark navy blue coat with the inner lining blood red, as were both his waistcoat and his breeches. He wore a polished bronze gorget slung around his neck, the vestigial armor worn by an officer to denote his rank. It was perchance the last harbinger of being a knight. Slung over his shoulder was a haversack. At his left hip was his sword, while his hands were covered with tan riding gloves. Unusual for an officer, his horse on its side bore a musket in a long tan leather holster. His face was clean shaven and betrayed his youth. Among the crowd watching Washington coming into Winchester was a 15 year old runaway named Daniel Morgan. Morgan was not only the cousin of Daniel Boone, but also would later be one of George Washington’s best general in the American Revolution, winning the battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.
Just as quickly as they marched in, they marched out, a little stronger for their reinforcements were waiting for them in the town square. Even so, Washington’ celerity was not enough to get his band of men to the Fort, before Ensign Ward, Trent’s second-in-command, had surrendered the fort.
Washington, having learned of the surrender, still forged on ahead. He did so because he understood that Tanaghrisson and his Iroquois were wavering in their support of the British. Tanaghrisson, who was also known by the name the Half King, was an Indian chief in the Ohio. Unlike most of the other Indian chiefs, the Half King had seen the value in allying with the British against the other Indians. The British were more constant in their trade of muskets with the Indians, which Tanaghrisson thought made them better allies. Washington was clever enough to write Tanaghrisson, not of his desire to keep the Half King on his side, but rather, he couched it in terms of what the British could do for the Half King. He wrote to the Indian Chief:
“I am coming with a Great Number of Our Warriors to ensure that you still will rule in the Ohio. Do not despair. I will honor our Treaty.”
Washington signed it with great flourish with his Indian name, “Connotaucarious”, which was the name given his great-grandfather, John Washington, over seventy-five years before in 1675. Washington knew that this name held great power, for it meant “Devourer of Villages.”
Next week, we will continue with the construction of Ft. Necessity in the Great Meadows.
Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf
Ahead at Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf, which is near to modern day Waterford PA, Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was continuing to strengthen his fortifications. He was the ideal man for his job. He was knighted or, as the French would say, he had become a Chevalier in the Ordre Royale et Militaire de Saint-Louis, which was a lofty title bestowed only upon Catholic officers who had served at least ten years, had performed exceptional service, and were veterans of many campaigns. The Captain also was an expert in numerous Indian languages and a renowned explorer of what the French called ‘pays d’en haut’, or all of the land west of Montreal, including both north and south of the Great Lakes. There was virtually no one in British service that could rival this Frenchmen’s experience.
When Washington met Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, he bowed as he presented his summons to Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. “His Britannic Majesty, King George II, respectfully requests the departure of your forces from this fort, as well as all the forces of France from everywhere in the Ohio Valley.”
Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre extended every courtesy of his fort to Washington and Gist as they awaited Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre answer. Secretly, Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was extremely impressed and yet extremely worried that Gist and Washington had been able to march to his fort in the middle of winter through unbelievably deep snows.
George Washington insisted upon an immediate answer to his King’s request, but Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre demurred and delayed. Washington began to become uncomfortable in his role as diplomat because he started to realize that he was at a sharp disadvantage in the niceties and subtleties of diplomacy with Legardeur.
Over the course of the next few days, Washington walked around the fort with Gist. He talked with Legardeur. He enjoyed the scenery at the Forks. Finally, Washington announced over dinner, that he had to leave the next day; he thanked his French host, and indicated that he had to have his answer by the morning. Legardeur proposed a toast to friendship.
It was January 1754, when Washington and Gist arrived back in Williamsburg. Washington and Gist had come all the way back from Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf in what must have been blinding speed for they had covered over 800 miles in the dead of a brutal winter with horrific snows that were hip deep.
Washington advised Governor Dinwiddie that the Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre on behalf of France had declined to remove his forces from the fort or to take any measures to withdraw any French forces from anywhere in the Ohio.
Immediately, the Governor was incensed. As he began to berate Washing ton, he noticed that Washington had a large scroll under his arm. Washington began to spread a large sheet on the table before the Governor. Washington advised the Governor that he had drawn a map with its location, its dimensions, and its armament, as well as further notes of strategic interest, such as the French having amassed 50 canoes and 170 pirogues to convey troops into the lower Ohio valley next summer. He drew a map of the Forks of the Ohio, which demonstrated how important this area is to hold and how it dominates the rivers and the area around.
Washington’s return to Williamsburg had been the match to set off a fire, although he did not know then how large the conflagration would grow.
Shortly after his return to Williamsburg in January 1754, George Washington sat down and wrote a detailed account of his journey to the Ohio Valley and a description of all that he had seen. This account was so well received by Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie that Dinwiddie had Maj. Washington’s journal published in both Williamsburg and in London. The Journal of Major George Washington included not only Washington’s careful account of his experiences in the Ohio country, but also Dinwiddie’s letter to the French and the French reply. Washington was now a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic.
Next week, we will continue with Governor Dinwiddie’s response to Legardeur.
Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie
Map Sowing French Forts including Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf
- The Snowy Trek to Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf (Near Lake Erie and Modern Waterford, PA)
The determinations of Providence are always wise, often inscrutable; and, though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times, is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes.-George Washington
First, I would like to express that I have great personal admiration for George Washington. He was simply the man who held the Continental Army together and made this nation possible. He again set the course for this nation as our first and, perhaps, greatest president. That we did not descend into a monarchy after the revolution is thanks to him and his foresight. Having said this, George Washington was not perfect. The time that we are talking about, 1749 through 1755, he was a very young man and he made mistakes that young men often do.
Our story begins in 1749. The Ohio Company of Virginia was founded by Lawrence Washington, the older brother of George Washington, and Lt. Governor Dinwiddie if Virginia. The Ohio Company of Virginia had been granted a royal charter of two hundred thousand acres in the Ohio Valley, as well as the promise of future of three hundred thousand more acres in the Ohio Valley between the Kanawha and Monongahela Rivers. Lt. Governor Dinwiddie was an ambitious man and a greedy man. He saw himself becoming vastly wealthy through the Ohio Company and he wanted to do everything to insure that the future grants were made.
Robert Dinwiddie was a Scot from Glasgow who had been educated at the University of Edinburgh. There he had made some very important connections of which we shall hear more later. He held various government positions, including Customs collector for Bermuda and Surveyor General of the Colonies, which position was responsible for collecting taxes.
In 1750, the Ohio Company had employed a man by the name of Christopher Gist a skillful woodsman and surveyor, to explore and survey this region in order to identify lands for potential settlement. He surveyed by estimating the Kanawhan Region and the Ohio Valley tributaries beginning in 1750, and continuing each summer through 1753.
It was through Gist that Gov. Dinwiddie learned in 1753 that the French had occupied and had built forts in the Ohio Valley area.
Dinwiddie wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, about the situation. The Duke of Newcastle was one of the very important connections Dinwiddie had made in College. The Duke’s brother was Henry Pelham, the Prime Minister of England. In late fall, of 1753, Dinwiddie’s letter so upset the Prime Minister and the Duke of Newcastle that the Prime Minister on behalf of the cabinet wrote the government considered the Ohio Valley to be of such imperial importance that all of the Governors that they must do everything they can to repel the French invaders by force. King George II wrote to Governor Dinwiddie that he was to build forts in the Ohio Valley and especially to take back the Forks of the Ohio River.
Dinwiddie sent an ambassador to warn the French that they must depart the Ohio Valley immediately.
For this role, the Governor chose a man who was virtually unknown to undertake this dangerous journey-George Washington. He was just 21 years of age. Although he had surveyed the Ohio Valley area when he was 16, George Washington’s claim to fame was his brother, Lawrence. Lawrence Washington was a famous soldier, a wealthy landowner, and by virtue of marriage to Lord Fairfax’s daughter, Ann, he had become one of the most important men in Virginia.
In order to balance the team, Dinwiddie also appointed Christopher Gist to serve under Washington.
Gist had negotiated treaties with key Iroquois leaders such as Tanaghrisson, also known as the Half-King and who will figure greatly in our story later. Most recently, he had negotiated another chieftain, known to his people as Memeskia. Although Memeskia had originally allied with the French, and had been very successful in the fur trade with them, in 1747 Memeskia had switched sides, joined the British, and had raided many a French settlement. For Memeskia’s loyalty to the British, in 1753, when the French attacked his village and had captured Memeskia, the French boiled him and ate him. In this manner, the French warned the Indians not to side with the British.
So as Gist trudged through the snow of December 1753, he had unsettling visions of what might happen to him and Washington.
Next week, we will continue our story of the trudge through the blizzards and snows to Ft. de la Riviere au Boeuf.
The grave of Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson.
Elizabeth Hutchinson was born circa 1740 in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland. Her husband to be, Andrew Jackson, was born about 1730 in northern Ireland. Elizabeth and Andrew were married in Carrickfergus circa 1761. Later, the couple immigrated to America in 1765 with their two young sons, Hugh and Robert.
They were Presbyterians escaping religious persecution and tariffs from the ruling Anglican faction. Four of Elizabeth Jackson’s sisters and three Crawford brothers – James, Robert and Joseph – also moved with their families to America at that time. James Crawford was married to Jane Hutchinson, Elizabeth’s sister.
For a while they lived in western Pennsylvania. The problem of the Indians coupled with the fact that Pennsylvania did not have a militia, because the Quakers did not believe in the use of force, induced the Crawford, Hutchinson and Jackson families to move further south on the Great Wagon Road.
Within a short time of their arrival, there Elizabeth and her husband acquired 200 acres of poor land at Twelve Mile Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River in the Waxhaws settlement in the Carolinas, southeast of the present city of Charlotte.
Waxhaws is the name of both an extinct American Indian tribe and of a geographical area bordering North and South Carolina. At that time, the Waxhaws consisted of little more than a Presbyterian church, a general store, and a few scattered houses.
In February 1767, Elizabeth’s husband died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-nine – just before his wife was to give birth again. His son, named for him was born March 15, 1767, just three weeks after his father’s death.
A few weeks later, Elizabeth and her sons moved to the house of her sister and brother-in-law, Jane and James Crawford, just over the border in South Carolina. Jane’s health had greatly deteriorated after she moved to America, and she was now an invalid.
When the Crawfords asked Mrs. Jackson and her sons to live with them, it was not wholly out of a sense of familial devotion and duty. The Jacksons needed a home, the Crawfords needed help, and a bargain was struck. “Mrs. Crawford was an invalid,” wrote James Parton, a colonial historian, “and Mrs. Jackson was permanently established in the family as housekeeper and poor relation.”
Elizabeth raised her sons in the Crawford house, where she worked as a housekeeper and a nurse for her ailing sister. Elizabeth was never a mistress of her own home.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, her three sons were anxious to fight the British. Elizabeth had regaled her sons with stories of the battle for freedom in her native Ireland, including tales of how their grandfather had fought against the British in Ireland and participated in the siege of Carrickfergus. Unknowingly, she had instilled a martial spirit in her sons, which she now was unable to quiet.
It was several years, however, before the War for Independence reached the Southern colonies. In 1780, the British launched an invasion of South Carolina and captured Charleston on May 12. A declaration by General henry Clinton, which, in essence, said that any man, whether or not he had been paroled before, had to fight for the Crown, or be considered to be an outlaw had three unintended consequences. First, groups of soldiers and Tory sympathizers began to loot and pillage the countryside. Second, men such as Sumter, who had been patriots before but who had later accepted a parole, now decided to fight again as patriots. Third, The Scots-Irish, inspired by preachers such as William Martin, felt that their religious liberties were about to be taken away by the British, such as had happened in Scotland first, and then later in Ireland, joined the patriot side.
Nearby the Waxhaws, LT. Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion, an elite military force of cavalry, infantry and artillery, caught up with General Abraham Buford and his force, which was the last organized Rebel army in South Carolina after the fall of Charleston. Buford was guarding the Governor of South Carolina and his entourage in their escape to North Carolina. Buford’s men were quickly surrounded and when they surrendered, Tarleton’s men proceeded to massacre the Rebels. The massacre led to the derisive term of “Tarleton’s Quarter” meaning that the laws governing civilized warfare did not apply.
This massacre sparked widespread outrage, as many bodies were mutilated and some had suffered more than a dozen wounds. The approximately 150 wounded were put up in the Waxhaw church, where residents, including Elizabeth and her sons, tended to the wounds and administered first aid.
After the Waxhaw massacre, Andrew (age 13) and his brothers Hugh and Robert joined a patriot regiment. Soon thereafter, Hugh died from heat exhaustion at the Battle of Stono Ferry.
In the late summer of 1780, British commander General Charles Cornwallis gained the upper hand following the battle of Camden, which left the patriots in tatters. As Cornwallis marched toward the Waxhaws, a yearlong battle of attrition began.
After a small engagement near the Waxhaws, Robert and his younger brother hid in the house of their relative, Thomas Crawford. British dragoons discovered the two boys and began to destroy the house, tearing apart furniture and breaking windows. The prisoners cowered in the living room until the British commander ordered the younger brother to clean the mud from the soldiers’ boots.
He refused, replying, “Sir, I am a prisoner of war and claim to be treated as such.” In an angry response, the soldier raised his sword and swung at the boy’s head. The boy managed to deflect part of the blow with his left hand, but he received a serious gash on both his hand and his head – two scars he would bear for the rest of his life. When Robert also refused to clean the boots, he was sent staggering across the room by a blow from the officer’s sword.
As a result of this incident, Andrew and Robert were held prisoner at Camden, South Carolina. Both boys became infected with smallpox and would have likely died, but Elizabeth arranged a prisoner transfer – the patriots turned over thirteen redcoats and the British freed seven prisoners, including the two brothers. The younger brother walked 40 miles back to Waxhaw, while his mother and his dying brother rode beside him. Robert died two days after returning home, and it was several weeks before the younger brother regained enough strength to leave his bed.
After Andrew got well, Elizabeth left to tend to other soldiers, who were being held on prison ships in Charleston harbor. The work was hard, and she took ill with ship’s fever – cholera. Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson died November 1781 at Charleston, South Carolina. As a notice of her death, relatives sent a small pile of her belongings to Andrew, whose entire immediate family had died from war-related hardships, which he blamed on the British.
The remaining boy was orphaned at age fourteen.
Agnes Barton was located and interviewed on the subject of Elizabeth Jackson’s burial place. She had come to the Waxhaws when the youngest boy was two years old, but during the Revolutionary War, she and her husband went to Charleston and settled in the suburbs of that city. When Elizabeth became ill, she was taken into Mrs. Barton’s home and nursed. When she died, Mrs. Barton dressed the corpse in her own best dress, while Mr. Barton built the casket. They buried her on a hill in a simple unmarked grave.
Her remaining boy later grew up and became a military officer in the army of the United States. In the war of 1812, he became a general and successfully defended a city-New Orleans-against the British. He parlayed his fame as a general and became President of the United States. His name was Andrew Jackson.